Portal:Gilbert and Sullivan

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The Gilbert and Sullivan Portal

Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian era partnership of librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900). Together, they wrote fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado are among the best known. Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful "topsy-turvy" worlds for these operas, where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion—fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offence, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert's junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humour and pathos. Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and nurtured their collaboration. He built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works—which came to be known as the Savoy Operas—and he founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted their works for over a century. The Gilbert and Sullivan operas have enjoyed broad and enduring international success and are still performed frequently throughout the English-speaking world. The collaboration introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century. The operas have also influenced political discourse, literature, film and television and have been widely parodied and pastiched by humorists.

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Illustration of Thespis by D. H. Friston
Thespis is an operatic extravaganza that was the first collaboration between dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. It was never published, and most of the music is now lost. However, Gilbert and Sullivan went on to become one of the most famous and successful partnerships in Victorian England, creating a string of comic opera hits, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, that continue to be popular. Thespis premièred in London at the Gaiety Theatre on 26 December 1871. Like many productions at that theatre, it was written in a broad, burlesque style, considerably different from Gilbert and Sullivan's later works. It was a modest success—for a Christmas entertainment of the time—and closed on 8 March 1872, after a run of 63 performances. It was advertised as "An entirely original Grotesque Opera in Two Acts". The story follows an acting troupe headed by Thespis, the legendary Greek father of the drama, who temporarily trade places with the gods on Mount Olympus, who have grown elderly and ignored. The actors turn out to be comically inept rulers. Having seen the ensuing mayhem down below, the angry gods return, sending the actors back to Earth as "eminent tragedians, whom no one ever goes to see."

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Richard D'Oyly Carte, W. S. Gibert, and Arthur Sullivan
Credit: Alfred Bryan

Gilbert and Sullivan created fourteen comic operas, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado, many of which are still frequently performed today. However, events around their 1889 collaboration, The Gondoliers, led to an argument and a lawsuit dividing the two. In 1891, after many failed attempts at reconciliation by the pair and their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan's music publisher, Tom Chappell, stepped in to mediate between two of his most profitable artists, and within two weeks he had succeeded. This cartoon in The Entr'acte expresses the magazine's pleasure at the reuniting of D'Oyly Carte (left), Gilbert (centre), and Sullivan (right).

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Queen Victoria

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Henry Fothergill Chorley
Henry Fothergill Chorley (15 December 1808 – 16 February 1872) was an English literary, art and music critic and editor. He was also an author of novels, drama, poetry and lyrics. Chorley was a prolific and important music and literary critic and music gossip columnist of the mid-nineteenth century and wrote extensively about music in London and in Europe. His opera libretti and works of fiction were far less successful. He is perhaps best remembered today for his lyrics to "The Long Day Closes," a part song set by Arthur Sullivan in 1868.

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A 1914 Edison Records recording of extracts from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. It includes selections from the overture, "A wand'ring minstrel", "Three little maids", "Tit-willow", and the Act II finale.

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John Hollingshead

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Arthur Sullivan
..musical composition, like everything else, is the outcome of hard work. ... If I had waited for inspiration I am afraid I should have done nothing.

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Gilbert and Sullivan
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The Triumvirate: W. S. GilbertArthur SullivanRichard D'Oyly Carte

The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: ThespisTrial by JuryThe SorcererH.M.S. PinaforeThe Pirates of PenzancePatienceIolanthePrincess IdaThe MikadoRuddigoreThe Yeomen of the GuardThe GondoliersUtopia, LimitedThe Grand Duke

Other Works, People and Related Matters: Other Works by W. S. GilbertOther Operas by Arthur SullivanOther Music by Arthur SullivanSavoy operaPeople associated with Gilbert and SullivanGilbert and Sullivan performersD'Oyly Carte Opera CompanyHelen CarteRupert D'Oyly CarteBridget D'Oyly CarteCultural influence of Gilbert and SullivanInternational Gilbert and Sullivan Festival

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